Philippines outlaws cybersex and 'cam girls'

A person using a computer The new law covers a range of online activities

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The Philippines has outlawed cybersex and online sex video chat.

Cybersex involves women - "cam girls"- chatting and performing sexual acts in front of webcams for internet clients.

It is a growing industry in many parts of the world, and often young women and under-age girls are forced into it.

Anyone breaking the law faces a fine of 250,000 Philippine pesos ($6,000; £3,700) and a jail term of up to six months.

The new legislation is part of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, signed by President Benigno Aquino on 15 September.

The act defines cybersex as "the wilful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favour or consideration".

One of the authors of the law, senator Edgardo Angara, said the act was needed to detect, investigate and suppress cybercrime such as hacking, cybersex, identity theft, spamming, and child pornography online.

The National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police are now meant to set up a cybercrime unit "to exclusively handle cases involving violations of this act".

To deal with these cases, the authorities are planning to create cybercrime courts with specially trained judges.

Kim and Maricel (not their real names) Young women and girls in the Philippines are often forced to work as cybersex chat girls

The law states that the regional trial court "shall have jurisdiction over any violation of the provisions of this Act including any violation committed by a Filipino national regardless of the place of commission... if any of the elements was committed within the Philippines".

The country has taken a hard line on cybersex in the past.

In 2011, two Swedish men were jailed for life for running a cybersex operation in the Philippines.

Three Filipinos were given 20-year jail sentences for helping the Swedes, who had set up the internet and payment systems, to run the business.

Free press threat?

Although the law talks specifically about cybercrime, Philippine media organisations have expressed concerns that it may also be used to curb press freedom because it lists internet libel as cybercrime.

According to the act, someone found guilty of libellous comments online, including comments made on social networks and blogs, could be jailed for up to 12 years with no possibility of parole.

The Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the act showed "how restrictive rather than expansive is the mindset of the country's legislators and of Aquino himself" in promoting transparency, press freedom, and free expression.

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